Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 133

As plans for a Russia-Belarus union continue to race forward, some Russian politicians have begun speaking out against the idea. One of them is Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who, in separate interviews over the weekend, warned that a rapid merger of the two states could lead to another Russian financial collapse (NTV, July 11).

On July 9, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said that a union treaty is almost ready, and that the details on how the treaty would be implemented would be worked out by August. Stepashin said that he had reached a “mutual understanding” with Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who recently and sharply criticized Moscow for dragging its feet with regard to the unification of the two states (Russian agencies, July 9).

According to Yavlinsky, an economic union between Belarus and Russia should be planned carefully over a minimum of five years, with the states involved moving “step by step” toward merging their economic and financial spheres. Yavlinsky warned that the blitz merger on which Russia and Belarus appear to have embarked will lead to the same “chaos” and “disorder” which reigned in 1991 and 1992–the immediate aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union–and will create fertile ground for looting and corruption. He pointed out that the merger would also rob a “fraternal” people of its statehood and violate the Russian constitution. He added that the Belarusan opposition, along with Western governments, consider Lukashenka’s 1996 referendum extending his presidential term to be illegal. Their view: Lukashenka’s term in office ends this July 20, after which he will be ruling without legitimate basis. This, according to Yavlinsky, explains why the Belarusan leader is pushing for rapid unification with Russia–as a way to recover his political legitimacy (NTV, RTR, June 11).

Like Yavlinsky, Pavel Bunich, who heads the State Duma’s property and privatization committee, warned that a rapid merger of Russia and Belarus would have negative economic consequences given the large gaps between the two countries in terms of monetary policy, inflation levels and living standards (RTR, June 11).

It is worth noting that while Grigory Yavlinsky is a long-time Yeltsin critic, some democrats who have traditionally defended the Russian president, such as Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, a top official in Yegor Gaidar’s Russia’s Democratic Choice, are now openly worrying about the Kremlin’s steps toward a union with Belarus. In an interview published today, Yushenkov said he believed that the Kremlin was looking at the union with Belarus as a way to keep Boris Yeltsin in power (Profil, July 12).